Tag Archives: chapter one

Chapter One of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little over a month, I thought I would share the first chapter here to wet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter One

 Flesh and Bone

On balmy summer nights, Highgate Cemetery lay as still and silent as its residents, but not on this night. Footfalls echoed through the rows of vine-covered graves, their names impossible to read in the scant moonlight. Crickets fell silent and the grasses on either side of the well-worn path rustled with life just beneath the surface as Cecil Hale passed. Reaching for the shuttered lantern at his side, the young man stopped and listened for any sign of his compatriots. He had been instructed not to open the lantern until he reached the Egyptian Avenue, but the graveyard was harder to navigate in the dark than he had imagined. The dizzying rows of cockeyed graves seemed to go on forever, all nearly identical to the next.

Closing his eyes, Cecil drew in a long breath and released a wave of energy that began at his russet hair and passed through his feet. In the darkness beyond the curve of trees, he felt a flash of power pulse back. So they had ventured into the vault without him after all. As he rounded the bend, his heart quickened at the sight of the obelisk and lotus-columned entrance to the Egyptian Avenue. Leafy boughs and Jurassic ferns spilled over the top of the mausoleum’s entrance, drowning out the tang of death with the scents of summer. He paused as the iron gate whined beneath his hand, waiting for the light of the night watchman he knew would not appear. A smirk crossed his lips. No one thought to worry about the dead.

Cecil’s gaze swept over the faceless row of doors on either side of him until it came to rest on the wavering radiance of an oil lamp shining from beneath the threshold. Pulling open the door, he shut his eyes against the harsh light of the lanterns within.

“Did they not teach you how to tell time at boarding school, Lord Hale?”

Cecil Hale stiffened. If it had been anyone else, he would have cut them down to size for not only insulting a viscount but for daring to question the standing of the youngest practioner initiated into the Eidolon Club, but when his hazel eyes adjusted, he found Lady Rose glaring at him.

“Do forgive my tardiness, Lady Rose, but it wasn’t easy to find my way here in the dark. Not all of us frequent graveyards,” he replied before he could stop himself.

A low chuckle emanated from where she stood, but Cecil swore he hadn’t seen her lips or chest move. Among the shadows of the mausoleum, her polished bronze hair and pale green eyes took on such an unnatural hue that he dared not question what he had heard. Of all the practitioners he knew, she was the only one he feared. If he stared too long, he could see the energy writhing and slithering around her, pulling at the flames positioned in a circle around the coffin at her feet. It was her power he felt when he cleared his mind’s eye.

As Cecil pulled the crypt door shut, a lanky, white-haired figure emerged from the neighboring chamber. Cecil was accustomed to seeing Lord Sumner in the Eidolon Club’s vast study, but seeing him standing in the mausoleum didn’t sit well. It felt wrong, like seeing one’s grandfather walk out of a Piccadilly brothel. He couldn’t imagine him with his carefully trimmed beard and Savile Row suit anywhere near a charnel house. The man had a lineage as distinguished as any king on the continent, so what could be so important that he would risk being found prowling around a graveyard with the likes of Lady Rose? Perhaps Cecil wasn’t the only one who didn’t trust her.

“Will it be only us this evening?” Cecil asked, his voice reverberating against the vaulted stone as he stared into the darkened chamber.

Without looking up from the coffin edge, Lady Rose replied, “If you’re worried about discovery, I hired a man to keep watch outside, but the ritual only needs one. His lordship is merely here to supervise.”

“Let’s hope the ritual won’t be necessary,” the elder noble murmured, averting his gaze from Lady Rose’s makeshift evocation circle.

“Oh? Are you having second thoughts, Lord Sumner?”

“I think all of us would prefer to avoid such vulgarity. We can only hope his family thought it best to bury the damned book with him.”

“So resurrectionists like us could find it? I doubt it,” she said, running her bare fingers over the lid as if feeling for something.

“Did anyone check his estate and town home?” Cecil asked.

Lady Rose and Lord Sumner exchanged an incredulous look before turning their attention back to the casket. Her fingers slid over the decorative molding and around the brass bars affixed to either side, probing every cranny for hidden springs.

Resting back on her heels, she motioned for Cecil to come to her side with a curl of her finger. “Cecil, would you do the honors?”

For a moment, he wished they had left the door open to the crypt. The stale air pressed in as he drew in a breath and held it. Cecil steeled himself, ready to avert his gaze when the lid cracked opened, but as he tried to yank it loose, a bolt of pain shot into his wrists and up his arms. Howling, he staggered back, nearly kicking over Sumner’s lamp.

“The bloody thing’s hexed!” he cried, rubbing his burning, twitching hands.

“The duke’s underlings were smarter than I thought,” Lord Sumner said under his breath.

Grabbing a handful of dust from the floor, Lady Rose cast it across the casket top. A series of rings, lines, and scribbles appeared through the detritus. Cecil leaned in to get a closer look. He had never seen a sigil that actually worked. The Eidolon Club didn’t endorse the use of such an out of fashion technique, so there had been no reason for him to bother learning about them. At the pulsing throb in his hand, he wished he had. Before he could finish tracing the twisting line with his gaze, Lady Rose pulled out a handkerchief from her Gladstone bag and scrubbed at the sigil. Cecil watched with wide eyes as she gritted her teeth and continued even as the arcane symbols crackled and arced with electricity beneath her palm.

She released a labored breath and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “Open it.”

Cautiously, Cecil reached for the lid, expecting to feel the bite of electricity once more. The lid groaned under his hand, but as he raised it, the bile crawled up his throat at the overwhelming stench of putrefaction. The smell of rotting meat mixed with the bite of acid and the coppery sweetness of blood was so strong that he dared not look down. He had hoped that in the few months since his death, the Duke of Dover’s body would have been reduced to nothing more than a skeleton in a suit. From the corner of his eye, he could make out an unnaturally blackened and melted face and a hint of bone peaking from the top of what he could only imagine had once been the duke’s hand. As he returned to his station near the door, Cecil covered his mouth with his handkerchief, hoping Lady Rose and Lord Sumner wouldn’t notice his sudden pallor, but she was already leaning into the coffin, her hands probing the body for the missing grimoire.

“Just as I suspected, it isn’t here,” she said, turning to Sumner.

“Then, what do you propose to do now?” he replied sharply, knowing the answer.

“The ritual. Unless you no longer want to acquire the book, but I highly doubt the Pinkertons or your investigators will be able to find it without hearing what the duke has to say.”

Lord Sumner’s lip curled in disgust as he locked eyes with the witch perched beside the coffin. She held his gaze, her green eyes at ease while the noblemen squinted at the pungency of the rotting corpse. With a final look at the duke’s bloated form, Lord Sumner retrieved his cloak and hat from an empty niche.

“Do what you will, but I will not be a part of it. Leave a message for me at the club if you find anything, but don’t taint me with your bone-conjuring.”

Storming out of the crypt, Lord Sumner slammed the door, leaving Cecil and Lady Rose in silence. She stared ahead, her face betraying nothing even as she sat back on the dusty floor. Cecil dared not ask if she was all right.

After a moment, she licked her lips and swept a stray bronze curl from her forehead. “Cecil, if you ever want to succeed, never let theory trump practical knowledge. Despite your position, you’re never too good to use what you have learned.”

“I don’t plan to rely on theory, Aunt Claudia.”

Satisfied with his answer, she asked flatly, “Did you make the tincture I asked for?”

Cecil nodded, reaching into his breast pocket for the flask. It had taken him most of the day to prepare it from the notes she had given him, but it was perfect. It had to be. He had been so careful to check the thermometer and even test some of the precipitate to ensure he had created the intended compound. What it did, he had no idea. Plucking it from his hand, she sniffed and swirled it before setting it aside.

“Very good. Do you intend to stay for the ritual or would you prefer to wait outside, Lord Hale?”

“If you would permit it, I should like to stay.”

“I see. Then, you must remain quiet and out of the way. You may be disturbed by what you see, but you must remain silent. Can you manage that?”

For a brief moment, Cecil considered slipping out the door of the crypt and getting into the first cab that would take him back to his flat, but he was an alchemist and to be taken seriously, he had to stay even when Lord Sumner would not. Sealing off his energy with a slow exhalation, Cecil stepped further into the shadows until his back rested against the damp stone. He watched as Lady Rose reached into the Gladstone bag at her side, pulling out a large, squat bowl, a bottle of what appeared to be water, a handful of narrow vials, and a rough obsidian blade. She emptied the bottle of water and three of the vials into the bowl. Placing it before her, she wafted the faint trail of smoke that rose from the liquid toward her. As she closed her eyes, her body rocked in time with the languid curve of her hand and a low chant resonated in her throat. Her free-hand skated through the dust at her side, scrawling tiny shapes he couldn’t make out before darting for another vial to add to the bowl.

The air grew thick with the stench of sulphurous smoke until Cecil feared he would be ill. Lady Rose’s lithe body writhed and snapped as her chant grew louder and more insistent. Sounds morphed into words he nearly recognized but were lost before his mind could retrieve their meaning. Drawing in a loud breath, the words ceased.

The obsidian knife flashed in the wavering candlelight. In one swift motion, Lady Rose ran it across the duke’s hand. A few drops of a thick black liquid seeped from the wound and across her open palm where a bloated finger lay neatly severed from its mooring. Cecil silenced a gag with a tight swallow as the stench of offal overpowered his senses. Whispers raced across Lady Rose’s lips as she raised the finger high before dropping it into the bowl. The smoke writhed and condensed, combining with the shadows lingering at the edge of the circle of candles. Monstrous faces flickered. They rose in open-mouthed grotesques only to be swallowed by another until finally the vague outline of a man solidified. His stern eyes and hollowed cheeks locked onto Cecil’s hazel gaze before turning to Lady Rose.

“Duke Dover, we—the blind living—humbly ask for your assistance. Your divine sight sees all: past, present, and future. Tell us, sir. Tell us where the Corpus Grimoire lies at this moment,” she pleaded, her voice level but tinged with yearning.

The duke’s face dissolved, drifting and roiling until a new scene appeared in the smoke. A paper package sat among stacks of crates and bags of letters stamped London, England. The faint hum of a dirigible reverberated through the tomb. It was on a mail ship.

Lady Rose’s eyes widened. “Duke Dover, who will receive the package? To whom is it going?”

Smoke twisted into a column before chipping away to reveal the soft curves of a woman. Her hair was fashionably curled into black coils that trailed down her neck and across the shoulders of her violet gown. Cecil leaned closer. Her rounded cheeks, the wide byzantine eyes, the tight set of her jaw in concentration. He knew her. During the season, he had sought her out at each dance, entranced by her wit and the warmth hidden behind her knowing looks and pointed remarks. Her figure fell in on itself before stretching higher into the form of a wiry young man. He would have been unremarkable, except for the long scar that cut through his left eye. How could they both have the grimoire?

A shadow stirred in the corner of the mausoleum. It climbed along the stone, straining and expanding until it nearly engulfed the entire wall. Cecil’s heart raced as the shade solidified into the shape of a man. It lashed out with an arm and wiped the flames from the tops of the candles. The tomb plunged into darkness, the only sound the swoosh of the shadow and the clatter of the bowl as it tipped. Groping for the lantern at his feet, Cecil felt for its radiant warmth and quickly opened the shutter.

Even before he was able to see, he knew the spirits had left the crypt. Despite the godawful smell of the corpse, he no longer felt as if he would smother. Stepping closer, he could make out a spreading stain where the bowl had fallen over and spilled the brew. Lady Rose stood behind it. She glared down at her ruined ritual before turning her hardened gaze to Lord Hale. He swallowed against the flare of power emanating from her body. Questions hung on his lips as she snatched the empty vials from the floor and threw them into her Gladstone.

“You aren’t going to try again?”

“There’s no point. The duke didn’t have much steam to begin with. He wouldn’t have lasted through another question, let alone being resummoned. We have enough information. The book is in transit, and it will fall to one of them.”

His mind trailed to the vision of the young woman with the dark hair and owl eyes. “How will you find them?”

“I have my ways,” she replied, pausing to lock eyes with something in the darkness. “If it’s in the city, one of us will feel it and find it.”

“The girl, I think I know her,” he said, not wanting to imagine what would happen if his aunt got to her first.

Lady Rose looked up from her bag, her eyes softened with interest. For the first time, her gaze was free of scorn as she searched his face. “Really? Can I trust you to keep an eye on her and report back to me? If she has the grimoire, it will be your responsibility to retrieve it.”

“But what if she won’t give it up?” Emmeline Jardine wasn’t a stupid girl who could be easily swayed with his noble charms and a bit of flattery. “She’s a true medium. I can sense her power at the Spiritualist Society. What if she wants to keep the book for herself?”

With a faint smile, she ran her handkerchief down the length of the obsidian knife. “Then, we will simply change our tactic.”

He swallowed hard. “And the other man?”

“Leave him to me.”


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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Dead Magic Sniplet #1

dead magic

So, I promised in my last blog entry that I would post a bit of Dead Magic. What you’re about to read is the very beginning of the book.


Dead Magic

Chapter One

Flesh and Bone

 

 

On balmy summer nights, Highgate Cemetery lay as still and silent as its residents, but not on this night. Footfalls echoed across the rows of vine-covered graves, their names impossible to read in the moonlight peeking through the trees. Crickets fell silent as the young man passed and the grasses on either side of the well-worn path rustled with life just beneath the surface. Reaching for the shuttered lantern at his side, Cecil Hale stopped and listened for any sign of his compatriots. He had been told not to open the lantern until he reached the Egyptian Avenue, but the graveyard was harder to navigate in the dark than he had imagined. The dizzying rows of cockeyed graves seemed to go on forever, all nearly identical to the next.

Closing his eyes, Cecil drew in a long breath. A wave of energy passed over him as the warm wind whipped a russet curl across his forehead. In the darkness beyond the curve of trees, he felt a faint pulse of power. So they had ventured into the vault without him. He reached for the pocket watch ticking against his side but let his hand drop. As he rounded the bend, his heart quickened at the sight of the obelisk and lotus-columned entrance to the Egyptian Avenue. Leafy boughs and Jurassic ferns spilled over the top of the mausoleum’s entrance, drowning out the tang of death with the scent of summer. The iron gate whined beneath his hand, and he paused, waiting for the light of a night watchman he knew would not appear. A smirk crossed his lips. No one thought to worry about the dead.

Cecil’s gaze swept over the faceless row of doors on either side of him until it came to rest on the wavering radiance of an oil lamp drifting behind the threshold. Pulling the door open, he shut his eyes against the harsh brightness of the lanterns.

“Did they not teach you how to tell time at boarding school, Lord Hale?”

Cecil Hale stiffened. If it had been anyone else, he would have cut them down to size for not only insulting a viscount but for daring to question the standing of the youngest magister in the third order, but when his hazel eyes adjusted, he found Lady Rose glaring at him.

“Do forgive my tardiness, Lady Rose, but it wasn’t easy to find my way here in the dark. Not all of us frequent graveyards,” he replied before he could stop himself.

A low chuckle emanated from where she stood, but Cecil swore he hadn’t seen her lips or chest move. Against the dusty grey of the mausoleum, her polished bronze hair and pale green eyes took on such an unnatural hue that he dared not question what he heard. Of all the practitioners he knew, she was the only one he feared. If he stared too long, he thought he could see shadows writhing and slithering around her, pulling at the flames positioned in a circle around her and the coffin at her feet. It was her power he felt when he cleared his mind’s eye.

As Cecil pulled the crypt door shut, a lanky, white-haired figure emerged from the neighboring chamber. He was accustomed to seeing Lord Sumner at the third order meetings, but seeing him standing in the mausoleum didn’t sit well. It felt wrong, like seeing one’s grandfather walk out of a Piccadilly brothel. He couldn’t imagine him with his carefully trimmed beard and Savile Row suit anywhere near a charnel house. The man had a lineage as distinguished as any king on the continent, so what could be so important that he would risk being found prowling around a graveyard with the likes of Lady Rose instead of sending an emissary? Maybe he didn’t trust her either.

“Will it only be us this evening?” Cecil asked, his voice reverberating against the vaulted stone as he looked into the darkened chamber.

Without looking up from the coffin edge, Lady Rose replied, “If you’re worried about discovery, my man is keeping watch outside, but the ritual only needs one. His lordship is merely here to supervise.”

“Let’s hope the ritual won’t be necessary.”

“Oh? Are you having second thoughts, Lord Sumner?”

“I think all of us would prefer to avoid such vulgarity. We can only hope his family thought it best to bury the damned book with him.”

“So resurrectionists like us could find it? I doubt it,” she said, running her bare fingers over the lid as if feeling for something.

“Did anyone check his estate and town home?” Cecil asked.

Lady Rose and Lord Sumner exchanged an incredulous look before turning their attention back to the casket. Her fingers slid over the decorative molding and around the brass bars affixed to either side, probing every cranny for hidden springs, but found nothing.

Resting back on her heels, she motioned for Cecil to come to her side with a curl of her finger. “Lord Hale, would you do the honors?”

For a moment, he wished they had left the door open to the crypt. The stale air pressed in as he drew in a breath and held it. Cecil steeled himself, ready to avert his gaze when the lid cracked opened, but when he tried to yank it loose, a bolt of pain shot into his wrists and up his arms. Howling, he staggered back, nearly kicking over Sumner’s lamp.

“The bloody thing’s hexed!” he cried, rubbing his burning, twitching hands.

“The duke’s underlings are smarter than I thought,” Lord Sumner murmured under his breath.

Grabbing a handful of dust from the floor, Lady Rose cast it across the casket top. A series of rings, lines, and scribbles appeared through the detritus. Cecil leaned in to get a closer look. He had never seen a sigil that actually worked. They were out of fashion and the order didn’t support the use of such an arcane technique, so there was no reason for him to learn about them. At the pulsing throb of his hand, he wished he had. Before he could finish tracing the twisting line with his gaze, Lady Rose pulled out a handkerchief from her reticule and scrubbed at the sigil. Cecil watched with wide eyes as she gritted her teeth and continued even as the arcane symbols crackled and arced with electricity beneath her palm.

She released a labored breath and wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand. “Open it.”


 

Stay tuned for more sniplets and updates of Dead Magic. If you would like to get a preview of the book first or news on sales and forthcoming works, please sign up for my newsletter by clicking here.

Catch up on the rest of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series before Dead Magic releases:

The Earl of Brass (Book #1)

The Winter Garden (Book #2)

“An Oxford Holiday” (A Companion Short Story)

The Earl and the Artificer (Book #3)

Let me know what you thought of sniplet #1!

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Chapter Preview- The Earl and the Artificer

It’s less than a month until The Earl and the Artificer is released in ebook and paperback. Between now and January 30th, I will be posting about The Earl and the Artificer as well as the process I’ve gone through while getting it ready for publication.

If you would like to pre-order The Earl and the Artificer, you can here for 99 cents.

eata final cover

As promised, here is the first chapter of The Earl and the Artificer, coming January 30th:

 

Chapter One:

The Ninth Earl

 

Elbow-deep in steamer engine innards and covered in grease was not how Hadley Sorrell expected her honeymoon to begin. The wedding and journey to Dorset had been surprisingly smooth, but their luck never lasted. She should have expected the steamer to pop and belch smoke in the middle of the road. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched her husband stare off, his grey eyes locked on the rolling waves as they lapped against the piebald coast in the distance.

“Hold my leg, so my dress doesn’t blow up,” she called. “Eilian!”

“Sorry!” He snapped to attention and held her billowing gown, his prosthetic hand resting behind her knee, as she looked into the hood. “Are you certain you don’t need help? I feel bad just watching.”

“It’s fine. I don’t think there is room in here for you, anyway.”

Leaning into the front of the cab, she brought her face close to the boiler as the heat of the kettle stung her cheeks. The metal coils of the heating element had melted into a blackened cake that smelled of burnt hair. Using the sides of the hood for leverage, she pivoted back until her satin boots met the road’s white gravel. Staring down at her cream dress, already streaked with soot and grease, she sighed and wiped her hands across it before smoothing a lock of henna hair behind her ear.

“I can’t fix it. It’s burned out.”

“We could take the bicycles into town. I don’t think it’s that far.”

“Let’s just wait for Patrick to come back. You know he won’t be long.”

As Hadley lingered in the road, reconnecting the pipes and organs from the disemboweled car, Eilian listened to the pastoral silence. Under the waves and the rustling trees, there was a faint noise he couldn’t identify and it was growing louder. Gravel hissed on the other side of the bend. By the time the steamer broke from the tree-line, it was barreling down the narrow lane. Eilian waved his arms to catch the driver’s attention, but he never slowed. Wrapping his arm around Hadley’s waist, he darted and turned, falling back onto the grass in time to watch the car hurtle past in a blur of steel and wood.

“Good Lord, he nearly ran you down!”

Hadley sat in her husband’s lap, arms and legs wrapped around him. As she tried to uncurl her legs from his lap, the muscles of her thighs locked and shook. Resting her head against his collar, she inhaled the sweet, earthy scent of sandalwood that lingered on his skin and let him hold her a little longer. If he had been slower— She shook away the thought.

“It’s no different from London. They would sooner run you over than look at you. Help me up, and I’ll finish before someone else comes.”

“No, let me do it. I’m already part metal. What’s one more limb?” he replied, kissing the top of her head and carefully disentangling himself from her skirts.

Watching Eilian from the grass, Hadley smiled to herself. The mechanized fingers of his right hand flexed at a thought, reattaching the engine’s cords and tubes with ease. It had been a year since they met, when she came knocking on his door with a tape measure and an idea for an electric prosthesis. They had shared a tent in the dusty lunar gorges of Palestine while she was disguised as a man, but there would be no more charades or mutterings from his mother about scandal or imagined impropriety. Now, they could finally be together. A thrill laced through her breast at the thought of such liberty.

“Incoming!” she called as a steamer chugged down the lane, slowing to a stop a few yards away.

Eilian stepped out of the way, his eyes trailing to the black-haired woman in the driver’s seat and beside her, his butler clamoring out the door. Patrick burst from the cab, sputtering apologies and half-formed phrases.

“Pat, slow down. I can’t understand a word you’re saying,” Eilian said as he joined him at the steamer’s hood.

Taking a deep breath, Patrick pushed his glasses up his nose and collected his thoughts. “Sorry, sir. She’s willing to take you and Lady Dorset up to Brasshurst Hall. I’ll stay behind and wait for the mechanic.”

The woman with the full features of a Caravaggian saint climbed out of her cab, her voluminous skirts rustling with each step. Her dark eyes ran between the young man with the wayward hair to the woman in the stained dress at his side. “Sorry to intrude, but your valet said you were headed for Folkesbury? I am headed that way now if you would care to join me.”

“That is very kind of you, Miss—?”

“Mrs. Rhodes,” she replied, walking back toward her steamer while the butler dithered between the trunks and bicycles tethered to the back of the hissing steamer.

Eilian held the passenger door open for Hadley to slide in. “I hope we aren’t inconveniencing you.”

“Not at all, I was heading back home. Brasshurst Hall is on the way.”

A pang of guilt rang in the pit of Eilian’s stomach as he watched Patrick grow smaller behind them.

“I was surprised to hear you were headed for Brasshurst. No one has been up there in ages. I almost didn’t believe Argus—my husband—when he told me the earl’s servants were coming up from London to clean the house. Are you his guests?”

Hadley’s lips twitched into a grin, and she shot her husband a knowing look. “He is the earl.”

“Oh.” Mrs. Rhodes’s eyes left the road long enough to search the nobleman’s face for any sign of offense while her own cheeks burned. “I beg your pardon, Lord and Lady Dorset. I— I was expecting someone… older.”

“No harm done, Mrs. Rhodes. You were probably thinking of my father. I have only been the earl for a few months, and I— Is that the house?”

Over the tops of the closely clumped elms and oaks, the spire of a tower rose. As they cut through the brush, Eilian’s eyes widened. Knowing his father, he had expected a conservative Georgian brick manor with a square roof and a smooth face, but the house was like none he had ever seen.

Brasshurst Hall was an asymmetrical monster. It had a Gothic portal and face on the front, a Palladian annex shooting off the side complete with columns and pediments. Straining his eyes, he could make out the latticed windows of a sultan’s harem floating above another layer of cathedral spires and pointed arches. The weathered grey-brown cloister stone was half-covered with ivy and wisteria. Following the gravel drive across an old stone bridge, the orangery appeared. The greenhouse’s glass and metal body bulged from the side of the manor like a verdurous boil. No wonder his father chose to move them to London.

When the steamer slid to a stop, Mrs. Rhodes swallowed hard, looking between her passengers. “I do hope you will call on us while you are in Folkesbury, Lady Dorset. My cousin is staying with us, and he has been eagerly awaiting your arrival. He lives in London, too, near Bloomsbury. You may have heard of him. Nadir Talbot, the novelist.”

“Yes, I think my brother read his last book, the one about Cleopatra. He enjoyed it very much.” When the woman’s eyes lit up, Hadley continued, “Thank you so much for giving us a lift, Mrs. Rhodes. I will most certainly pay you a visit once we are settled.”

Watching the steamer roll away, Hadley sighed as the grin fell from her cheeks. She would have to pay calls in a few days, drifting from house to house pretending she was the Countess of Dorset and not Hadley Fenice of Fenice Brothers Prosthetics. It was hard enough to pretend she was an aristocrat for a few hours at their wedding. How was she supposed to keep it up the entire time they were in Dorset? At least her etiquette books were packed in her trunk and Folkesbury seemed like a small town. Maybe no one would notice that she wasn’t a born aristocrat.

Eilian’s metal hand pressed against her palm. “So, what do you make of it?”

“It’s… different,” Hadley replied, her gaze running over the bright blue brace and ledge door set into the deep rings of the Gothic façade.

“I’m beginning to wonder if insanity runs in my family.” Eilian opened the door and turned to her with open arms. “Well, shall we?”

“You’re going to pick me up? Are you sure you can carry me?”

“I have before.”

Slipping his arms around her shoulders and behind her knees, he hoisted Hadley against his chest. She wrapped her arms around his neck and braced herself in case his prosthesis couldn’t bear her weight. Whenever he picked her up or held her close, part of her still wanted to look around to ensure no one was watching, yet she didn’t want him to stop.

“This is a silly tradition, Eilian. You don’t have to do this.”

“I want to; it’s good luck.” He kissed her cheek and pushed the door with his back. “The Romans believed carrying a bride over the threshold would protect her from evil spirits…”

Eilian froze in the doorway. The tunneled hall was dark, looming over them and pressing close to his head. While the floor had been swept and the old rug laid out, the ribbed arches were webbed with spider’s silk. As the dust motes danced and surged around them, he tightened his grip on her. Turning toward the sun’s rays, he reached to close the door but left it for fear of the shadows rushing in or what might lie beyond the threshold.

“I think we are a little late if we want to beat the evil spirits.” Hadley’s eyes roamed over the clots of long dead insects and debris spun into the grooves of the stone ceiling as he set her down. “I thought the maids were supposed to come and clean up.”

“They were. Maybe I didn’t send them early enough. There are only three of them, and I had no idea the house would be this large… or filthy.”

Taking Eilian’s hand, Hadley stepped into the great hall. The house groaned and yawned somewhere deep within. Hadley raised her eyes to the high Gothic windows and skylights she had seen on the drive up, but they were so choked with ivy they barely emitted enough light for her to make out the family coat of arms carved into the hearth on the other side of the room. A pile of furniture covered with once white sheets stood in the corner, blocking off the entrance to the dining room. The wood-paneled walls were caked in grime while the pointed arches in the upper arcade were cloaked in curtains of cobwebs as opaque as silk screens.

Rubbing her arms, Hadley stared into the mouth of the massive hearth. A granite lion’s head snarled back at her, a spider skittering from his drawn lips to his meager mane. She pulled a handkerchief from her purse and stood on tiptoe to wipe the crest above his head. An otter and a fox stood on either side of a shield surrounded by acorns and leaves. In the fox’s paw was a key while the otter clutched a scallop. Between them an oak sprouted, and a banner stretched across its roots. With her finger wrapped in the linen square, she scrubbed at the stone until the thin letters peaked through. It all had significance. If only she knew what.

“Eilian, what does it say?”

The earl squinted, tracing the letters with his fingertip as he pronounced the familiar phrase. “Salus in Arduis. A refuge in difficulties. Maybe in better days. Come on, let’s see if we can find the library or the orangery.”

Walking into the windowless hall, Eilian felt along the wall for the gas lamps’ switch but found only the dusty edge of a picture frame. He reached behind it, but when something in the shadows brushed against his hand, he lurched back, bumping into his wife. Raising his eyes, he met the face of a man in a powdered wig as the lamps lit with a gurgling sigh. The third earl stared down at him from the wall, the grey irises beneath the cocked brows and the signet ring on his finger were all that tied them together, and he still hadn’t been able to wear his father’s ring yet. He swallowed hard. So these were his ancestors. These were the men he had to live up to.

Eilian took a step forward but stopped, moving back with his eyes locked on the painting.

“What are you doing?”

“His eyes follow you.” He shuddered and tried it with the fourth earl’s portrait further down the hall. “Do we really have to stay here? Can’t we just go to Greece instead?”

Hadley rolled her eyes, avoiding the women hanging in a row on the opposite wall. Why look at them when she knew what she would see? They were a line of noblewomen, born and bred to be the wives of aristocrats, all perfected in oil and exuding a hauteur she couldn’t hope to emulate. She dreaded the day when she and Eilian would sit for their portraits, when their faces would be placed beside his ancestors and everyone would see the glaring deficiencies in the ninth Earl and Countess of Dorset. Reaching the end of the hall, she tugged at the pocket door. With each inch it slid, the thrumming hum of an engine grew louder, but on the other side stood the library. Eilian drifted in behind her, his eyes wide as they followed the bookcases up the wall where they melded with the coffered ceiling.

All of the houses prior eccentricities and sins were forgiven at the sight of the library, which rivaled his back in Greenwich. He ran his hand over the edge of the cabinet before turning the key and pulling it open. Books by Pliny, Archimedes, Al Jazari, and the Banū Mūsā brothers stared back at him. Carefully pulling the last tome from the shelf, Eilian cradled it against his chest with his prosthetic arm and turned the fragile vellum pages with the tips of his fingers. His gaze darted over the tight lines of Arabic and intricate schematics as he settled in at the divan under the window. He wondered who else had cared about ancient engineers.

Hadley’s cream gown floated at the edge of his vision until she knelt on the chair beside him and wiped at the window. She swatted at his shoulder, but his attention never wavered from the page.

“Eilian.”

He had never been able to find a pristine copy in Arabic, even in Cairo and Constantinople. His friends at the Oriental Club would be envious if they knew of his find.

Hadley gripped his shoulder and squeezed. “Eilian, look!”

Glancing up, he met her wide blue eyes, the freckles across her nose stark against her sudden pallor. She motioned for him to peer through the hole in the dust. Between the trees and dense foliage of the greenhouse, a figure sat in a wingback chair beside the algal pool.

“Someone’s in there.”


 

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